The elevator made a laboured ding as the doors ground slowly apart, seemingly rebelling against their prime function in life. The basement beyond was dark, lit only by a ring of lasers from floor to ceiling—the only thing keeping the prize within. It was a large ring, however, and the creature stuck inside it lay on a simple bed with an Xbox hooked up to a high-def TV, playing a generic first-person shooter.
Modok Rocksmasher, leader of the clan of goblins bearing the name, was actually a half-troll, the other half being human, and not a goblin at all.
The non-goblin goblin leader had a kill streak going, which he was loathe to have interrupted. His character was a shaven-headed marine who blasted wave after wave of non-Americans both human and monstrous with assault rifle fire in a gritty, realistic first-person shooter from before the Element War, and he was progressing extremely well.
“Ooh, up on the left,” Xavier exclaimed, seeing a foe with a rocket launcher reloading.
Modok shot the enemy, who fell off the building and into the barbed wire barrier around it, particularly in front of the entrance. The action died with the last foe, and Modok was given a reprieve from all the senseless virtual killing, which would last a total of a minute as the game dragged him along and threw him into a rooftop chase mission. Xavier had played this game a few times.
“I have some news, oh partly green one,” he said. Modok continued playing.
“Is news food?”
“Better: it’s freedom.”
Modok paused the game.
“Just one more needle, then you get to go home, I’ll have my troll blood, and we all get to go home happy. How’s that for news?”
“When we go?”
“Oh, how about… right now?”
He’d played this game four times.
Modok turned the Xbox off.
The beat-up white van rattled along a circuitous path through the city with a troll on board.
Xavier Brock drove through the crumbling Neo-Brisbane much smoother than his compatriots. He liked doing the driving himself. Collin constantly braked, hard, while their other friend Seth didn’t brake at all. His method was a happy medium, and besides, he had authority. It still wasn’t even remotely a smooth ride, however, bouncing the occupants around like marionettes.
Collin Skye rode shotgun in white slacks and buttoned shirt, a shield amulet hanging from his neck. The two guards sat on a makeshift bench in their gunmetal-grey powered armour and watched the prisoner, one Modok Rocksmasher, a troll who looked like a darker-green Yoda if Yoda was six feet tall with a six pack and battle-scars—scars that Xavier had put there. Muscle rippled under filthy rags and yellow eyes glared out of a face with the kind of teeth that horror stories were made of—and a nose to match, all pointy and crooked, reminiscent of the wicked witch of the west.
Xavier would’ve liked to go the direct way from his business building in the forest of empty, lifeless skyscrapers to Central Station, but debris was making certain parts of streets inaccessible. Cars, buses, trucks and aircraft blocked some streets entirely, stuck in permanent peak hour, while large craters full of stagnant water existed here and there. Office buildings had come down across streets and sometimes, slabs of concrete wall made for obstacles that a person might climb but which a delivery van had no hope. And there just weren’t enough people with spare time to clean up the mess.
So they had to take the scenic route.
They turned onto Creek Street and could just make out loud noises issuing from their destination. Fortunately the cars in abandoned stalemate along this street were only on the road, and the footpaths were relatively clear—clear enough for their van, at any rate.
There was music blasting from somewhere, loud and aggressive styled. It seemed to be on the street, of all places. As they mounted the curb and drove closer they could make out the flicker of flames ahead, and a trace scent of fuel wafted into their nostrils.
“It looks like there is a party ahead,” Collin said. “I wonder if they have fairy bread?”
“A party… out on the street?” Xavier asked. “Odd.”
Then, to Collin, “You getting anything on your radar?”
Collin shook his head slowly. Collin’s divination spell, despite its nature, couldn’t tell him anything about the situation ahead. Maybe it needed to be closer to work, or maybe the spell just wasn’t up to the task today. One school of thought claimed that the future was unknowable and mortals could only know tiny little bits of it, never the whole of it and never directly regardless. It could be a hundred different reasons when dealing with divining the future, and they couldn’t accurately know why.
The van crept up the hill at a slow ten KPH and as they neared the destination they could tell that yes, there was the beginnings of a party going on there, threatening to go off any second like a riot.
Then they saw who were partying. Skulls decorated pickets and corpses lined the hire fences that channelled incoming traffic into their killers’ territory, the segment of Ann Street parallel to Central Station. In the middle of all this, twenty or so revellers sang, drank, and fought. Around them, guns occasionally fired wildly into the air, no concern for the cost of bullets.
This was a raider party.
Xavier stopped the car at one entrance, a fresher head with standard-issue military helmet mounted on a picket nearby.
“Are we there yet?” one of the guards asked, having noticed they were no longer moving.
“There’s a raider party ahead,” Xavier said, turning around in time to see the guard who asked the question go pale. His was a face with an eye patch covering a deep, jagged scar, and it was enough to make that face go pale.
“We can take ‘em,” the other guard said confidently. His grizzled face bore a large burn all over the left cheek, and several small scars from various fights all over his face.
“There’s twenty or so of them,” Xavier added.
“I don’t care: they’re just raiders, and they’re getting drunk.”
Xavier considered for a moment, then said, “We don’t engage unless they fire at us first. Got it?”
The burnt guard glowered but remained quiet. The other one was just about shaking.
Even so, the four activated their shield amulets.
The raiders noticed the van parked in front of the entrance to their recently claimed territory and came over to investigate. One raider, likely their leader based on how much bone and spikes she had on over her black armour, and the way she walked, came forward. Her head was shaved bare except for a bright pink Mohawk. The raider woman carried an assault rifle slung over one shoulder, and a katana in a sheathe at her tiny left hip. Spikes pierced her dusty light-brown skin everywhere that wasn’t tattooed, and some places that were.
“Oh look, boys,” she said, in what promised to be a sarcastic droll. “Why, it’s the second most powerful man in the city, second in command to the so-called ‘Demon Lord’... Xavier Brock, in the flesh!”
The raiders made all kinds of noises, enough that it was hard to separate them, as they edged closer to the van with weapons grasped tightly.
Xavier leaned out the window.
“Hey, we need to pass through. Can you let us past?”
The woman appeared to consider for a bit. “There’s a toll,” she said.
“That’s great,” Xavier said sarcastically. “Because we’ve got a troll.”
The woman blinked. She gave a signal with one hand and a large raider opened the side door. He scurried away.
“Troll!” he cried.
The woman had a look at the passengers.
“So, you’ve got a troll,” she mused. “Well we have a toll… so you can’t just stroll… or we’ll…”
“Crush your skull?” the big raider suggested.
“Yes. Or we’ll crush your skull!” With that, she pointed the gun at the windscreen and opened fire. The other raiders nearest joined in, and it was immediately a warzone, bullets being fired into the air as well as after the van.
Xavier snapped into action. He backed the van up, and the side door was thrown forward, but not enough to slam shut. He and Collin activated their shield amulets as bullets impacted the windscreen like hail stones. Xavier reached the corner and slammed on the brakes. Up on the crest of the hill, they could see the raiders pouring out of the rent-a-fence area, guns blazing.
And one of them had a rocket launcher.
“RPG!” Xavier yelled. He and Collin dived out of the van.
The raider fired.
A red projectile shaped like two joined cones streaked through the air, a trail of smoke billowing out behind it.
The van erupted in a fireball.
Xavier awoke to a pounding headache and blood trickling down the right side of his face from a cut in his forehead. It tasted of iron.
‘So much for the shield amulets,’ he thought. Though to be fair they’d been taxed to their limits deflecting assault rifle fire moments ago—assuming it was only moments he’d been knocked out, and not the whole night. It was definitely night. He tried to think.
First things first. He pushed himself up. It hurt; something was broken. The pain was everywhere though. He righted himself as best he could against the wreck of the van, its front half split open like a metal banana. The front was basically torn away, leaving the back of the cabin exposed. Collin was on the other side, his leg twisted.
“Was that an RPG?!” Collin asked through the shaking.
“Some seer you are,” Xavier muttered.
He inspected the van’s insides. One guard was definitely dead—the one with the eye patch—and the other was on the ground, moaning weakly for help. It was too late for him.
There was no sign of the raiders save for some bodies and pools of blood.
But none of it compared to one simple fact.
Modok was gone.
Something prodded Modok. He woke, and found himself chained in place. He was lying on a couple of café tables pushed together, a medical drip feeding into his arm. A small bench to his right had an array of devices on it, from scissors to test tubes. Some of the tubes had liquids in them but most were empty. For now.
He grunted as he tried to break the chains. They rattled noisily but didn’t break. These were the thick, heavy sort. He’d need a lot of strength to snap these ones. For now, he was hostage.
“Damn, he’s awake,” a voice said. It was a woman. The raider leader.
Another voice joined hers, this one more educated-sounding. “We just need his blood. He doesn’t have to be asleep to drain him.” Modok looked to his left and saw a man in a lab coat with a pair of goggles juxtaposed against the blue-and-green Mohawk on his head. He was a weedy little guy Modok figured he could crush without breaking a sweat.
“I’d prefer him dead,” the woman snarled. Modok remembered how many raiders Xavier’s crew had killed in the fight.
“That can be arranged,” the raider scientist said. “But for now he needs to be alive. Besides, how does one kill a troll?”
“If in doubt, kill it with fire.”
“Yes, but then we’d have only a limited supply of troll blood.”
“What’s so special about that anyway?” the raider woman asked, impatiently.
“If I’m right, troll blood carries the necessary elements that allow a troll to regenerate wounds. If we had a steady supply of that...”
The raider leader’s eyes widened. She got it.
“Then we’d be able to regenerate our wounds!”
The raider scientist stood up and looked directly at Modok as he injected something into the medical drip.
“Now, how about you go back to sleep, and let us take some more of your blood?”
The medicine kicked in.